COM0014 Blog Post 7 – Personal Reflection

In this course, I have learned that, for personal and professional applications, I have a story to tell, and that story can be used to entertain, persuade, educate, and inspire my audience. I have also learned that the way I communicate is important too. I need to make sure that I write clearly, concisely and concretely so that my message is communicated in an efficient but descriptive manner. Tone, spelling, grammar, formatting and writing in an active voice are important too.

I have learned that my audience is comprised of a diverse group of people, differing in age, gender, culture, religion, beliefs, values, interests and goals, and it is my responsibility to compose my message in a way that meets their needs. The purpose of my communication with my audience matters too: If I am communicating with consumers (B2C), businesses (B2B), or the government (B2G), my communication style and my purpose will be different with each.

I now know that my purpose and audience will determine my communication tool. I could use a blog to provide up-to-date knowledge and information to my customers and position myself as a thought leader in my field. I could use email marketing to develop long-term relationships with customers and business allies. I could use Twitter and Facebook to engage and participate with my audience. LinkedIn, podcasting, Pinterest, Reddit are also available to me to share my story with my audience.

I have learned that it is important to cultivate my online brand, my online reputation so that it will bolster how people can reach me and I can reach them, and add value to what I do and how I do it. My brand in itself carries a message of who I am, what I stand for, and what it is like to work with/for me.

I’ve learned that as important as it is to have a strong brand, to know my purpose, and to utilize an audience-centered approach to communicating, the content of my story is of paramount importance. If I want my story, my business, my message to stand out from the plethora of content created daily online, I need to ensure my message contains a purpose, relevance to the reader, and an opportunity for my audience to participate. Furthermore, I need to tell stories that are personal, compelling, entertaining, that humanize my business, and appeal to the emotions of my audience. This requires taking a wide angle view to storytelling, one that considers depth-of-view and juxtaposition.

Ultimately though, in this course, I’ve learned that what both the message sender and receiver, or storyteller and audience want, is an authentic, human connection when communicating. We want to be able to share, listen, ask, answer, and exchange information, regardless of purpose. And what both sides of the communication process want is to share their unique story with each other, the story that makes them who they are, how they got to where they are, and where they want to go from here.

I plan to use this information when I take over our family landscaping company. I want to tell the story of who we are. I want to tell the story of a young boy who grew up in Ireland, admiring the timeless natural stone walls that lined roadways and fields, who told himself that one day he would build a wall that would stand for just as long. That little boy moved to Canada where, as a grownup he began landscaping, creating beautiful, liveable spaces that not only people have enjoyed for years, but also contain a small piece of his Irish heritage. I want to tell the story of a man who takes absolute pride in what he does, who goes to work every day with a smile on his face because he is truly passionate about what he does. I want to tell the story of a man who cares more about doing the best job he can for his clients than about making money. I want to tell this story, and I want to be the author and subject of the next chapter.

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COM0014 Blog Post 6: Do People Know Your Story?

You asked me what the greatest flaw in the landscape construction industry is and my answer is that the profession is not standardized and regulated, which results in a huge disparity in what companies charge customers as well as the quality of work produced.  Did you know that there are no construction standards which landscapers in Ontario are obliged to follow? Sure, there is the Interlocking Concrete Paving Institute (ICPI), which is a trade association that represents the industry and offers training. However, it only has 900 members across North America. Landscape Ontario is another trade association, but it represents only 2000 members, and it is made up of more than just landscape contractors: landscape designers, gardening nurseries, growers, irrigation companies, lawncare, lighting, and snow removal companies, are just a few. Both of these groups offer installation guidelines and best practices for contractors, but for the most part they are not being followed, because membership is not required for landscape contractors to operate as a business in Ontario. This is hurting the industry. Let me tell you why:

Landscape construction in Ontario is a highly technical process that considers engineering standards, climate, and environmental factors. Due to the amount of frost we receive it is important to take into account soil conditions, how deep and compacted of a gravel base is required, as well as issues such as water slope and drainage, among many other factors.  More often than not, proper installation in Ontario requires more extensive excavation, base material installation, compaction and grading than other climates. That is, if you want the project to last more than a few years. If these factors are not taken into account, the installed project will require repair within 1-2 years. Due to the amount of landscapers in Ontario, how much experience they have, and whether or not they adhere to the installation guidelines provided by organizations such as Landscape Ontario and ICPI, standards of installation vary by company, which affects pricing of jobs.

So if companies wish to cut corners by skimping on excavation and base materials for example, this drastically reduces the price of the job, which can give that company an advantage in being hired, because their price is much lower. Our company, Shamrock Landscaping refuses to compromise the quality of our work and the integrity of our 35 year reputation. Regardless of the cost, we always meet or exceed recommended standards of installation. We have even created a document that outlines the minimum standards and guideline we will follow and encourage our customers to ask other contractors if they follow the same guidelines.

This approach has won us many contracts, but also lost us some when clients chose to go with a cheaper contractor.  I cannot count the number of past clients who have come to us after we completed their project 8, 12, even 15 years ago, who have thanked us for such a job well done. They tell us that the bricks have not settled, and the project looks exactly the way it did the day it was installed. I have also heard from many people who hired other companies based on the cheapest price. These companies did not follow recommended installation guidelines, and their work required significant repairs after just one year, and they had to pay another contractor just as much as the first time in order to get it fixed. These practices are not only hurting customers, but they are also giving the landscape construction industry a bad name.

If organizations such as ICPI or Landscape Ontario had a larger mandate that required contractors to become members and follow their guidelines, the estimating competition would be much more fair and transparent. Contractors would be competing equally against each other, and customers would ultimately benefit, as they would be paying for a better, durable, long-lasting project for years to come. Until this industry flaw is remedied, there will continue to be an enormous disparity between what contractors charge and the quality of work they produce. I hope that answers your question.

 

COM0014 Blog Post 5: Personal Brand

My name is William Hennessy. I am an educator and professor of communications with a passion for teaching and learning, traveling, science fiction, and spending time with family and friends.

Colleagues have described me as a dedicated, enthusiastic, knowledgeable team-player with a high level of personal integrity. One quality that distinguishes me from my peers is my desire to always be the best teacher that I can be for my students.

As Professor of Communications at the University of Guelph’s Kemptville Campus, staff and students took it pretty hard when news came that the campus would be closing in 2015. Despite this tragic loss of jobs and future learning opportunities, I re-doubled my efforts and strove to uphold the high-quality education being provided on campus to my students who had to finish their program. With all of the negative media and uncertainty surrounding the campus, it was important to me to ensure that learning would continue for my students.

My efforts resulted in being awarded the highest-possible performance rating by my supervisors, a student evaluation rating of 91%, and a recognition by the Ontario Agricultural College for being the first instructor at its 3 regional campuses (Kemptville, Alfred, Ridgetown) to incorporate Twitter into the course curriculum.

I truly enjoy being in the classroom with my students, where I learn from them as much as they learn from me. I employ a Community of Practice approach when shaping the learning environment.  I believe that we all learn best when we can share our personal and unique lived experiences, perspectives and ideas, which transforms not only our classroom, but the way we see the world.

COM0014 Post #4: B2C Case Study

The company I have chosen to study is Lakeridge Contracting, a landscape construction company in Whitby, Ontario. In an industry that traditionally has not had a strong social media presence, but is currently experiencing exponential growth, Lakeridge stands out from the rest. With Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube accounts, this company has a large social media presence, compared to other landscaping companies in Ontario.

While most B2C social media marketing campaigns are sales-driven, focus on the buying/selling process, and are quite short, Lakeridge’s approach is more akin to a B2B style. They seek to build long-lasting relationships, build brand identity, and educate customers about the company and industry. By drawing attention to themselves and the landscaping industry, they end up attracting customers who wish to hire them. This approach supports Simon Sinek‘s theory that customers “don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” In this case, the “why” that customers are attracted to is how much fun Lakeridge has, and how much they enjoy what they do. This is evident from their Twitter interactions and Youtube videos. The company has coined the hashtags #Hardscape4Life and #HardscapeBrotherhood to bring recognition, credibility and a sense of honour and camaraderie to the profession. Their Youtube videos are humourous and entertaining, as evidenced by their “Friday Dance” segments where they dance on the job-site.

Even though they are quite successful at social media marketing in an industry that is behind others, Lakeridge’s approach is not without weaknesses. They are currently leaders, but eventually the market will become saturated with other landscaping companies who wish to market online. Lakeridge will need to monitor their competition, and possibly change their approach. Right now their goal appears to be to build brand and industry awareness through entertaining and fun content, but this may not be enough soon. Perhaps a B2C approach that is product/services-driven would be more effective. An example would be Youtube videos that introduce their services, explain proper installation techniques and industry standards, etc. If they wish to continue to use viral campaigns to attract clientele, they may need to up their game with more professionally-produced and edited content as well.

Also, their direct interaction with customers and followers is quite minimal. While they do engage in conversations and discussions on Twitter, these are mainly with B2B business allies such as suppliers, sales reps and other contractors. They need to better engage their customers and followers. The majority of their social media messages and videos are one-sided, in which content is posted, it is viewed/read, and that is the end of the interaction. Lakeridge should focus on longer-lasting and more active interactions with customers. This kind of relationship will better inform the company of what their clientele’s needs and concerns are, as well as increase brand loyalty. Blogs, Reddit AMA’s (Ask Me Anything) would be excellent additions to their current marketing, and would only enrich their approach.

COM0014 Blog Post #3 – Target Audiences

Our family landscaping business is seeking to use social media to increase our brand awareness and audience of homeowners who are 50 years of age and under. Currently, over 70% of our clients are married couples over 50 years of age, retired (or close to retirement), no children at home, and are English-speaking. Our clients are typically middle to upper class members of society, with high amounts of disposable income. They are seeking to create an outdoor living space which can be used to entertain friends and family, as well as to relax in solitude. Many forgo expensive vacations instead opting to create their own paradise or retreat at home.  The majority of our clients do not use social media.

Our company wants to increase our audience in other demographics, namely younger homeowners and those who use social media. The idea with this is that if we can start a lasting relationship with these clients at a younger age, we can continue to assist them with their landscaping needs for many years to come. We have created a Facebook page that includes a company profile, a portfolio of projects, and engaging posts to share and interact with our followers. The problem with this is that, surprisingly, this demographic in our medium-sized city does not appear to use social media to find landscaping companies. I have been using Google Alerts for 1 year, and it has not yet yielded a positive hit for us. Searches using Pinterest, Twitter, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite have come back empty as well. The problem, then is that our company isn’t missing out on a conversation with our audience: the conversation isn’t happening online. We need to start the conversation and build our audience. Based on our Week 3 lesson, this is what I think will help us solve this problem:

  • Increase our social media presence
    • Having only 1 account is not enough. I think we should add at least a Twitter and Pinterest account. This will help build our brand awareness and we can link back to our Facebook page with these two. Lakeridge Contracting, a landscaping company in Whitby, ON has an excellent social media brand.
  • Start a monthly newsletter, using MailChimp
    • We already collect our clients’ email addresses. We can sign them up for our newsletter, which is helpful because:
      • Our company stays fresh in their minds
      • Our current clients know people in the demographic we are pursuing. They will hopefully refer us.
  • Start a blog that discusses landscaping trends, practices, and what differentiates us from our competition. This will allow readers to learn about us.
  • Increase supplier referrals
    • Many younger homeowners who want landscaping in our area go to the local landscape supply store and ask them to recommend a contractor. Many of the contractors, including us, have printed portfolios in the store for customers to look through. If we used a TV or tablet to display the projects and Facebook page, not only will it differentiate us from other companies, it will also create interest in our social media profile.
  • Promotional contests that require participants to “like” our Facebook page, sign up for our blog, follow on Twitter, etc.
  • Increased small-scale marketing of Facebook page
    • Link on supplier website, QR code inserted into business card, word-of-mouth mentions, etc.

Blog Post #2: Find your digital communication voice

If you are going to be an effective digital communicator, you need to find your “voice.” When I teach my students about persuasive messages, one of the first things I tell them is that every message is a story, and they need to tell their story in a way that captivates their audience. Writing in your voice is an authentic, interesting and effective way to communicate, and the best way to tell your story. You can find your voice by sticking to the following three rules:

  • Identify your audience
    • Most importantly, you need to know who your audience is. Typically, you will be communicating with colleagues and supervisors, customers, or the general public. Your goal is to identify your audience and consider their demographics when composing your message: Age, culture, education, location, interest level, etc. Once you know your audience, you can brainstorm how best your message will ensure your readers are what Mortimer J. Adler calls “Synoptical” readers, and not “Elementary” readers.
  • Know Your Purpose
    • It is also important to know what you want to accomplish with your message. Do you want your audience/readers to act on your message, to comment, to purchase, to share, or simply to be informed? Including an engaging call to action in your message will increase the likelihood of your message being successful.
  • “Speak With Conviction”
    • In digital, oral and all types of communications, remember to communicate using a concrete communication style. Strong verbs, an active writing style, concise wording, and excellent spelling, punctuation and grammar perfectly express what you want to say and are representative of your voice. Here is a link to spoken word poet Taylor Mali’s performance, “Speak With Conviction” that humorously shows the importance of communicating confidently.
  • Following these three rules will not only help you find your voice when communicating digitally, but they will help you compose and deliver an effective, clear and concise message every time!

My Last Vacation

My last vacation was a memorable one which I will never forget, namely because my wife and I got married! In April 2014, myself, my fiancée Amy, and approximately 40 friends and family members flew to the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for a week to attend  our destination wedding.

We chose this resort because it is situated on what is considered to be one of the best beaches in the world, recognized as such by UNESCO (http://headliner.openjaw.com/022315_TransatBarcelo/stories/view/284/offer-clients-the-best-beach-in-punta-cana-with-transat-s-exclusive-adult-s-only-barcel-bavaro-beach) . After a long and gruelling winter, our group wanted to be able to bask in the tropical sunshine and spend our days on the beach.

When we arrived at the resort, we were immediately impressed by the size of it. Our resort only formed part of the Barcelo grouping; there were 3 other Barcelo resorts connected to ours, and a bus shuttle connected all 4. Our resort, the Adults Only hotel has about 500 rooms, countless bars, and an assortment of culturally-themed restaurants: Mexican, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, etc. If you’d like to learn more about the resort, including the activities, amenities and accommodations, here is the link: http://www.barcelo.com/BarceloHotels/en_US/hotels/Dominican-Republic/Punta-Cana-Beach-Bavaro/hotel-barcelo-bavaro-beach/general-description.aspx

The wedding was scheduled for the middle of our trip, so everyone had a chance to get settled in and to explore everything the massive resort had to offer. As mentioned, many of us spent our time on the beach, but there were also multiple pools, a gym facility, a spa, and day-trip excursions for all to enjoy if they wished.

When the big day arrived, Amy and I woke up early to watch the sunrise, and enjoy breakfast on our balcony – a peaceful and relaxing moment before the day’s excitement began. After that, we went our separate ways, Amy off to get her hair done with the rest of her bridal party. I joined up with my groomsmen and we played some volleyball (I love volleyball!) before getting ready.

The ceremony took place at the garden gazebo. It was a beautiful spot, secluded from the rest of the resort with gorgeous trees and flowers, a pavilion in the centre, and peacocks roaming the grounds. Despite all of this beauty around us, it paled in comparison to my bride. The sight of Amy took my breath away and even gave my butterflies in my stomach! After we said our vows and kissed, my cousin played our song on his guitar – Come Rain or Come Shine by David Francey.

Once the ceremony was over, we spent the rest of the night eating and dancing with our group. The entire day was captured wonderfully by our fantastic photographer Ben Benvie – You need to check out his work here: http://benbenvieblog.com/2014/wedding/amy-william/

Our last vacation was truly one we will always cherish: We got to hang out with some of our favourite people for a week, stayed at a fantastic resort, swam in one of the best beaches in the world, and had perfect weather. Oh yeah, and we got married!

What has your experience with destination weddings been?